The "invisible divide" that splinters families and nations
I recently read “The Black Eagle Inn,” the third book in Fischer’s trilogy. This book is an intriguing family saga, tracing one Bavarian family from before WWII into the 1970s. Click to read my review.
Christoph and I met through Facebook discussions of indie publishing and writing historical fiction. I’m pleased to have him here today, sharing how the stories in his trilogy developed. Read on!
Family, history and story lines – Christoph Fischer
Writing The Three Nations Trilogy has been an interesting journey for me. I took some actual family stories of which I had only vague knowledge and basic data and placed them in appropriate historical settings. During my research I imagined what it would have been like for my ancestors and their friends and that is how the stories came alive.
My grandmother, originally from Bratislava, cooked differently than Bavarian cuisine. She and my father used odd words and they had a strange accent compared to the locals. On Sundays, we listened to music by Smetana or Slovak folk dance music and although I was born in Bavaria, spoke ( my slightly odd version of) the regional accent and wore Lederhosen, I always felt a little out of place. I always knew that this invisible divide would be a central theme for my books.
The failed marriage of my grandparents in Brno in the 1930s and my grandmother’s subsequent life served as the starting point. When I did my research on Slovakia for “The Luck of the Weissensteiners,” I was naively surprised to find racial hatred at that time someplace outside of Germany. Slovakia even joined the Axis powers, even if it was partially motivated to do so to rid itself of the Czech ‘dominance.’
The blame for all of this was put on the clumsy dissection of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after the Great War. Czechs and Slovaks were thrown into a political Union to keep the German minority in those areas under control. Eye witnesses and history texts often talk nostalgically about the golden Hapsburg era and and life in Vienna before WWI, where members of new emerging or would-be nations were living in harmony and peace.
This nostalgic idea needed to be examined more closely and so I did some research and chose exactly that Vienna as the setting for “Sebastian,” the second book in the Trilogy. In “Sebastian,” I told the story of my grandparents’ divorce from my grandfather’s perspective.
Whatever books I read, the supposedly golden era of racial and religious tolerance seemed more glitter and lip service than reality. The Empire had broken and the individual pieces wanted out. Vienna’s upper class lived in a dream world, protected from reality. After the war, a severed Austria had to find a new place in a new Europe. I wanted to portray the positive side of this new beginning. There were missed opportunities and errors made but at least a redundant structure was finally let go. I published “Sebastian” after “The Luck of the Weissensteiners” to show the moment in history isolated with its (sadly) unfulfilled potential.
In “The Black Eagle Inn,” I finally turned to my Bavarian heritage and the myth that some areas of Germany were almost unaffected by fighting, bombing and Nazi terror. It is true that there were pockets of land in the Reich that remained untouched while the Allied armies engaged in a desperate race for glory to Berlin.
Distant relatives of mine had a farm and a restaurant business. I once went to a wedding there and I as in awe of this huge ’empire.’ This became the focal point in the last part of the Three Nations Trilogy. This time there is an ethnically homogenous cast, all members of the German nation and yet they, too, have divisions and eventually need to let go of their strict concept of the ‘Nation’ they want it to be and let it evolve in order to stay strong.
Health problems exempted some from military service and many were too old or too young to fight. Strong Catholic affiliation supports the claim of many that they were not involved with the Nazis at all. But how would they live with the culprits of the war, their neighbours, the murderers and spies?
After WWII, Germany became a divided Nation, formally through politics but also internally. How could the entire Nation, the new generation live with the shame and rebuild the country – and rebuild it right?
What makes a nation? Loyalty to a throne, borders, religion, customs, language, shared history? Everyone needs to decide that for themselves. You may experience unity with others through shared national, racial or religious identity, but exclusivity and division will not build a lasting nation.
There is huge danger when the national aspect of one’s identity is over emphasised, as was the case in WWII. Remember the Christmas truce football games been French and German soldiers during WWI? Nationalism and the dubious reasons for the war were easily forgotten. The men felt unified because they shared the same reality of trenches and shells.
Christoph Fischer was born in Germany, near the Austrian border, as the son of a Sudeten-German father and a Bavarian mother. Not a full local in the eyes and ears of his peers he developed an ambiguous sense of belonging and home in Bavaria. He moved to Hamburg in pursuit of his studies and to lead a life of literary indulgence. After a few years he moved on to the UK where he resides today. ‘The Luck of The Weissensteiners’ was published in November 2012; ‘Sebastian’ in May 2013 and The Black Eagle Inn in October 2013. He has written several other novels, which are in the later stages of editing and finalisation.
Here are all the places you can find Christoph and his books: